First let me comment on the profession of the ladies of the evening. As soon as storekeepers and saloon owners opened for business in a frontier town, Prostitutes were there to welcome the miners, soldiers and cowboys who were their best costumers. Prairie nymphs as they were often called arrived in their own wagons and tents and set up shop. Prostitutes were so numerous on the frontier that they are believed to have made up twenty percent of the female population of California in 1850. They usually out numbered “respectable” women twenty-five to one. Most western towns as the population grew could support a regular brothel staffed by four or five women. In the Kansas cow towns the age ran from fourteen to thirty, the average age was twenty- three. Although most “filles du joie” were white, many brothel photos include Black, Asian and Hispanic women. Julie Bulette, a famed Virgina City courtesan, was black. Most prostitutes were single but some were married to their pimps or managers.
Owners, operators, and employees were the cream of the profession. They scorned those who rented rooms over saloons and the “crib” girls who peddled themselves from the front windows of their tiny establishments. The street walker were the dregs of the sporting world and were the ones most often in trouble with the law.
With notable exception, white slavery was a myth. Most women who entered the trade did so with the pratical knowledge of their actions. A prostitutes life was neither appealing or romantic, but rather, that opportunities available to a woman of those times were limited. A female factory worker of the east was not paid a living wage for a single woman. Dressmaking and millinery work was severely limited and, unlike the movies would have you believe, a western town could not support a woman either. Prostitution was a alternative to poor wages and job insecurity and starvation.
One Denver woman said “I went into the sporting life for business reasons and no other. It was a way for women in those days to make money and I made it”.
Another madam described her early career. “I’ve laid in all of’em (oil towns). I throw-ed my Fanny twenty_one times a night, five buck a throw and “time old red eye (the sun) come up I was drunker’n an Indian”.
At the turn of the century the Everleigh sisters in Chicago could demand from their clients fifty dollars and a formal recommendation. On the frontier prices ranged from five dollars at a posh establishment to a dollar or less for run-of-the-mill for the less fastidious.
The gal with the heart of gold was by and large a figment of lonely cowboys imaginations. The sisterhood was at times close nit and often they banded together to help on out in need, during pregnancy’s and sickness. Some times a girl escaped the life through marriage to a client. Several men of note married prostitutes and their past was not mentioned in front of the husbands if you valued your health.
I have let my self ramble on more than I intended. It had been my thought to cover a few of the women in this chapter. I will just breifly (ha) try to talk about one of these gals.
SQUIRREL TOOTH ALICE
There is a popular photo of a woman sitting in a demure setting with a Prairie dog on her lap and it is titled “Squirrel Tooth Alice”, this is not the true Alice.
Mary Elisabeth “Libby” Thompson 1855-1953; Born Mary Elisabeth Hale was born in Balton, Texas, to a troubled childhood. Her family lost their fortune in the Civil. In 1864 she was captured by the Comanche’s, ransomed back to her family at the age of thirteen. People shunned her because they were sure she had been subjected to sexual abuse by her captors. she eventually met a older man who didn’t care about her past. Her father was enraged that the man was caring on with his young daughter and killed him. This only enhanced the predigest of the surrounding people.
At the age of fourteen Libby ran away to Abilene , Kansas. with no options available to a young girl she became a dance-hall girl. She met a gambler, sometimes cowboy, named Bill Thompson, brother to Ben Thompson. Bill had a nose for trouble so they moved around a lot, with Libby plying her trade where ever the settled. She bore a child to Thompson so they married.
In 1872 Libby was running a saloon in Sweetwater, Texas, with a brothel in back. It was here where she took to keeping a Prairie Dog as a pet. With the little critter in tow and a gap between her front teeth the customers started to referring to her as Squirrel Tooth Annie. She ran her establishment until 1921 when she retired at the age of sixty-six.
Thompson died long before she did and she had three other children by other men. The boys all turned to crime and the girls to prostitution. Libby spent her latter years living with her various children. she died at the age of 98 in the Sunbeam Rest Home in Los Angeles, Calif.
I wonder how she managed to live so long with out the ravages of the sex born deseases we know to day. And there was sure enough of them around back then.
My wife and I used to visit antique stores all over the southwest when we could. There is one in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., down by the railroad tracks. It has a large entertaining room and a kitchen and dinning area down stairs. We had always remarked on how small the sleeping areas were upstairs. Hardly room for a small bed and maybe a chest, a small dresser, and tiny closets. On our last visit two young women who were working told us some of the history of the place. They said it was built in the 1800’s as a bordello. Explains the crib like rooms.
Well hope you enjoyed this outing. Also must add at this time that was the olny visit I ever made to one of those establishments.
hobbling on out of here.